Yajure flashes promise, confidence in debut

April 22nd, 2021

's debut with the Pirates didn’t end with the pitching line he wanted, but he showed the tools that have made him a top prospect in the organization.

In his first Major League start, Yajure went 4 1/3 innings and allowed four runs as the Tigers took Game 2 of Wednesday’s seven-inning doubleheader, 5-2, at Comerica Park, following the Pirates' Game 1 victory.

The 22-year-old righty, who is ranked the Pirates’ No. 12 prospect by MLB Pipeline, cruised through two innings on a lot of weak contact, needing only 15 pitches. Yajure left a first-pitch fastball down the middle that Niko Goodrum hit for a solo homer to begin the third inning, but he recovered to strike out three of the next four batters.

When Yajure reached the fifth inning, his command and his arsenal began to lose a bit of polish. After working his changeup well below the zone early on, he left one high in the zone to Jonathan Schoop, who cranked it for a leadoff homer. Manager Derek Shelton referred to the offering as “the only changeup he threw all day that didn’t have action to it."

Yajure struck out Harold Castro, but then allowed a walk, a double and a walk to chase him from the game. The last pro start Yajure made came on Sept. 11, 2019, and he said he felt the effects of the extended time between starts when he reached the third time through the order.

“Nothing that I feel concerned about,” Yajure said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “It’s been two years, and I recognize that ‘OK, there are some things that I need to do physically just to be able to last a little longer in the game.’”

Yajure, who made his MLB debut with the Yankees as a reliever last season, threw his strongest offering the fewest times of any pitch on Wednesday, but still to great success. Of his six curveballs, three went for called strikes and two induced whiffs, leading to three of his four strikeouts on the night.

Still a work in progress is Yajure’s fastball. He said it’s had a cutting motion -- per Statcast, he threw 18 cutters versus eight four-seamers on Wednesday -- and he’s working to stay on top of the ball more by working with special weighted balls.

Yajure got to share his team debut and first Major League start with Rodolfo Castro, who made his Major League debut after last playing at High-A in 2019. Yajure and Castro, who went 0-for-3 as the Pirates’ third baseman on Wednesday, said they have a great relationship despite knowing each other for a short while.

“We were pumping each other up and sharing our emotions, really encouraging one another,” Castro said through Gonzalez. “It helped me feel even more confident being up here, and it actually made me feel even more excited, especially going into the second game, when I knew he would be pitching.”

Tyler Anderson, who got the win in Game 1 of Wednesday’s doubleheader, spent a lot of time talking with Yajure during Spring Training. He could tell that Yajure was ready to pitch in the Majors due to the amount of work Yajure put into his game, whether that be scouting, strength training, throwing bullpens or anything.

“I like his preparation,” Anderson said. “If he competes the way he prepares, I think that he’ll be in good shape.”

“I think it’s very apparent, the way he’s going about it,” Shelton said. “It’s one of the things we really like about the kid -- the way he attacks his work, like the way he attacks the zone.”

As he worked efficiently early on Wednesday, Yajure got the same sense, too. He could tell his stuff played. He was growing in confidence. Despite the result, it was a step forward.

“I was able to recognize in those first few innings that I belong here,” Yajure said. “This is something I can definitely do. Now, it’s just going back and preparing a little bit better.”